High-Hydration Sourdough Focaccia
May Subscriber Exclusive Recipe
This recipe marks the third focaccia I’ve shared here, after the no-knead one I shared early on and the upside-down one I created as an easy way to test the strength of your starter. Unlike the previous two, this one is a bit more hands-on, but is definitely worth the extra effort, since it produces a light, airy, and tender crumb and a delicate, crisp crust. (This is my own go-to focaccia recipe.) One way it achieves this is through a very high hydration dough: 85% water, plus 5% olive oil.
Despite this, the dough is easy to handle, because it remains in a container from start to finish. In order to build strength in the dough, it gets a longer-than-normal autolyse (without the levain, to keep the acids away until gluten has started forming), and four sets of in-the-bowl folds as it proofs. For this reason, it makes for a great introduction to working with high-hydration doughs. Once you are comfortable with the way that folding dough can turn something soupy and amorphous into a supple, bouncy dough, you’ll be more ready to work with similar doughs for loaf breads.
It uses another favorite technique of mine, which is to cold proof pizza and flatbread doughs in containers that are similar in shape and dimensions to the final bread’s (I use 13x9-inch cake pans in this case). That way the dough expands toward its final dimensions as it relaxes in the fridge, which means you don’t have to overwork it and press out the all the lovely alveoli it contains. (This is a trick I learned from my friends at Elmore Mountain Bread, who proof their full-sheet size doughs in shallow fish tubs.)
It can be baked in standard 18x12-inch half sheet pans, or—as in the one above—in a 13x9-inch cake or black steel pizza pan, if you want something extra thick.
There are also two versions: a sourdough one that gets a pinch of dry yeast to tenderize the crumb, and an all-yeast one if you don’t have a starter yet or just don't have enough time to build the levain. (Unlike both of the no-knead focaccias, this the sourdough version of this recipe requires freshly-made levain.)
Lastly, buried in the notes section is another little trick I like to use to get larger focaccia toppings like grapes, cherry tomatoes, herb sprigs, and cheese cubes to end up embedded in the dough without knocking out precious alveoli.
Let me know if you have questions, and I hope you like!